False or misleading news helped amplify the movement, with help from RT, Avaaz’s report states.
کد خبر: ۸۸۵۴۱۷
تاریخ انتشار: ۲۲ اسفند ۱۳۹۷ - ۰۸:۵۶ 13 March 2019

False or misleading news helped amplify the movement, with help from RT, Avaaz’s report states.

France's Yellow Jackets protest movement led to an explosion of false or misleading news data-x-items circulating on Facebook, with posts shared some 4 million times over a five-month period, according to a study of social media activity during the protests.

The analysis, carried out by researchers for the Avaaz activist network, showed that the top 100 false posts flagged by fact-checkers had been viewed a total of 105 million times on the social network over the period, which stretched from November last year to this month.

The study also underscored the unparalleled popularity of RT coverage of the movement on YouTube, with video posts produced by the Kremlin-backed news outlet gathering more than 20 million views on the Google-owned platform — more than twice as many views as Le Monde, L'Obs, France 24, Le Figaro and LeHuffPost combined.

According to Christoph Schott, who coordinated the research together with Luca Nicotra, the results show how "lies" designed to grab attention spread much further on platforms than factual reporting, facilitated by algorithms that encourage users to share and engage with popular content.

"It's easier to tell lies than truth in a very compelling manner," said Schott. "It's much harder to come up with a factual headline that goes viral than a false one, and the people who are producing this stuff know what they are doing — they use the platform to create viral effects."

Avaaz — which describes itself as an activist network that carries out campaigns based on polling of its support base — tasked a team of reporters, researchers and data analysts to examine posts shared by pages, groups and profiles associated with the movement, looking for false or purposely misleading content.

France's Yellow Jackets protest movement erupted late last year in response to a planned hike in fuel prices. After an initial call to protest was shared on Facebook, the grassroots movement gathered national momentum, staging more than a dozen rounds of protests, whose participants identified their support by wearing high-visibility jackets, which French motorists are required to have with them.

The movement, which initially enjoyed widespread support from the French public, lost some of its popular backing following several weeks of disruptions to road transport and violent clashes between protesters and police.

President Emmanuel Macron embarked on a speaking tour of the country in response to the crisis, and has promised to unveil new measures at the conclusion of a so-called Great Debate.

While much attention during the crisis focused on fake news produced by foreign actors, Schott pointed out that most of the top 100 false or misleading Facebook posts related to the Yellow Jackets movement have been produced by domestic activists. RT's coverage, much of which was straightforward, helped to bolster and amplify the movement's reach online.

"This is pretty much home-grown fake news that was able to infect all of France, and it happened at a huge scale," he added.

In their study, Avaaz's 25 researchers in Europe focused on posts that had previously been flagged by fact-checkers for Le Monde or Agence France-Presse as being deliberately misleading. Among the top six, they cited a photograph of a woman with a bloodied face made to look as if it was taken during a Yellow Jackets protest, but which was actually taken in Madrid in 2012.

As of March 6, the post had been shared more than 136,000 times. Facebook added related articles that pointed out the misleading information below the post after it was flagged by fact-checkers.

In another example shared more than 349,000 times, a user posted a photograph of a protest on Paris' Champs-Elysées avenue, claiming that it was about to be censored. The post was never taken down.

A third example concerned a letter, purportedly written by French actor Gérard Lanvin, which criticized Macron. Lanvin denied that he had written the note, which distorted portions of a letter he wrote in 2013, and was shared more than 251,000 times on the platform. Facebook took down the original post, but it was reproduced and could still be found as of the report's publication, Avaaz said.

A spokesperson for Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

On YouTube, the report underscored RT's dominance over other outlets in terms of the total number of videos posted and video posts about the Yellow Jacket movement. In total, RT France's videos about the Yellow Jackets garnered more than 23 million views, compared with just under 11 million for videos by all "mainstream" outlets combined.

A spokesperson for Google had no immediate comment, nor did RT immediately respond to a request for comment.

Avaaz's Schott said the results of the research had been presented to representatives from Facebook, as well European Commissioner for Security Julian King and Commissioner for Justice Věra Jourová, along with a call for platforms to start making systematic use of fact-checking tools to label false or misleading stories.

In 2018, the European Commission published a "code of disinformation" that called for greater transparency around political advertising, cooperation with researchers and tools for people to flag false or misleading items. Commissioners King and Mariya Gabriel slammed Facebook last month for "fail[ing] to provide all necessary information" about online ads.

King has called for "rapid corrections" that are "given the same prominence and circulation as the original fake news," but so far has stopped short of calling for legislation that would force platforms to hire fact-checkers or endorse any sort of rating system for news.

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